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Civil suit against AK Steel opens

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

By Dale Dempsey Dayton Daily News

CINCINNATI--In a case that is being closely followed by steelworkers and environmental groups, the federal government's civil lawsuit against AK Steel of Middletown opened Monday before U.S. District Court Judge Herman Weber.

The lawsuit alleges the company committed hundreds of environmental violations dating back to the mid-1990s.

"The importance of this case cannot be minimized," Weber said. "We all know the ramifications."

In what he called a structuring hearing Monday, Weber laid the groundwork for the non-jury trial, which is expected to last for many more months. Oral arguments in the case were set for Sept. 10.

A half-dozen members of the United Steel Workers Association of Mansfield, which is currently locked out at AK Steel's plant there, drove to Cincinnati for the hearing.

"We're hear to urge the EPA and the state to continue with their campaign," said Butch Norris of the USWA, who criticized the company for claiming the case could lead to layoffs.

AK Steel employees about 3,500 in Middletown. The company has said it would have to re-evaluate its continued operation there if forced to pay large civil penalties or install expensive pollution-control equipment.

Ohio Citizen Action and the Sierra Club are also following the lawsuit.

The judge gave an indication of the complexity of the case by alluding to the number of motions and counter motions already filed.

"I have two banker's boxes full of documents in my office," Weber said. "I am also working on nine appellate cases and all nine fill only two boxes."

Motions are still being filed.

"If you start filing 25,000 page briefs you are going to irritate the court," Weber told the nine lawyers in the courtroom.

The U.S. Attorney General, acting on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, took AK Steel to court in June 2000, alleging hundreds of violations of the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a hazardous waste statute. The Ohio Attorney General's office joined the lawsuit a week later.

The court could impose civil penalties on AK Steel up to $25,000 for each day of violation prior to January 1997.

Both the federal and state complaints claim that until 1997 AK Steel discharged polychlorinated biphenyls or PCBs in excess of federal standards into the water of Dicks Creek, which flows by the company's Middletown plant. Health hazards from PCBs include respiratory distress and liver damage.

AK Steel has said a consultant it hired found much lower concentrations of the contaminants and has said the government ignored pollution upstream of the plant, not attempting to prosecute other responsible parties.

Lawyers for AK Steel are arguing that Ohio should be removed from the case because the state lacks the enabling legislation to bring charges in federal court. David G. Cox, Ohio assistant attorney general, said the state does have the authority, citing several Supreme Court cases.

Contact Dale Dempsey at 225-2270 or dale_dempsey@coxohio.com

 

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